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Breaking Travel News explores: A weekend in Doha, capital of Qatar

Breaking Travel News explores: A weekend in Doha, capital of Qatar

Does Dubai have an emerging rival as tourism capital of the Middle East?

Certainly, there are no shortage of pretenders right now, with Saudi Arabia building a number of new attractions as part of ambitious Vision 2030 plans, and neighbouring Abu Dhabi also spending big to lure the crowds.

The more established cities of Beirut, Muscat and even Amman in Jordan also have plenty to offer travellers looking for adventure.

Close by, but perhaps flying further under the radar, is Doha, capital of the state of Qatar.

Coming to global attention hosting the FIFA World Cup 2022, many will know little more than the shots of the emir draping a bisht on victorious Argentine captain, Lionel Messi.

But this sea-front city has been working to capitalise on the momentum generated by the tournament to ignite a local hospitality sector to rival those across the region.

Sheraton Doha is a long-standing icon on the city skyline

Visiting in honour of the AFC Asian Cup this month, I was pleasantly surprised how far the city had come over the past decade.

In the early 2010s, there was little on offer to wow international visitors in the dusty capital, with the ziggurat silhouette of the Sheraton Doha the only structure of note on the corniche skyline.

Today, the city is transformed.

Without losing sight of its Islamic heritage - when was the last time you heard a call to prayer in Dubai? - Doha has built an attractive tourism offering which is beginning to gain traction.

The country welcomed four million visitors in 2023, with more expected this year.

Guests come to see the freshly minted sights, including the Museum of Islamic Art and National Museum of Qatar, but also to savour the relaxed atmosphere.

Doha offers a slower pace of life than the bright lights of Dubai; the traffic is less congested, the prices lower and the atmosphere less frenetic, all of which will appeal to travellers looking for the much fabled ‘authentic’ destination.

Raffles Doha has joined the luxury market in the destination

That is not to say there is not luxury here.

Qatar has the third largest proven natural gas reserves in the world and is the second-largest exporter of natural gas – they have money to spend.

Properties including The Ned and Raffles Doha can compete with any in the world.

The latter is housed in Katara Towers, an arching architectural masterpiece on the waterfront of Lusail Marina, shaped to resemble the crossed swords of Qatar.

Also in the area, we stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Lusail Doha, which offers more than 400-rooms and is a great option for families with a little cash.

The National Museum of Qatar has won plaudits for its innovative architecture

So, what to do with a few days in town?

During our whistle stop tour, local tourism leaders were keen to emphasise the events calendar, with the Qatar International Food Festival and Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition drawing a smattering of guests when we passed through.

Later in the year, the Web Summit and Formula 1 Grand Prix will likely prove highlights.

On a more permanent basis, Souq Waqif offers an enchanting way to spend an afternoon, with guests encouraged to haggle for cashmere scarves, spices and much more.

As with elsewhere in the region, falcons are also venerated in Qatar, and the souq is a great place to find out more about these majestic birds.

Indeed, a dedicate fan can even pick one up to take home as a pet for prices starting at £500 – with flag-carrier Qatar Airways prepared to welcome falcons on board as passengers.

Elsewhere, the reclaimed land of the Pearl Island is home to an expatriate community and numerous high-end restaurants, as well as showrooms for Ferrari, Porsche and Rolls-Royce.

This is one of the few places in Qatar where foreign nationals can legally purchase property, so those looking to stay for a little longer might like to consider a visit.

On the coast, Mina District perches on the sea front and does a passable impression of Doha for cruise guests with limited time.

There are also a growing number of beach bars - including B12 - where holidaymakers can get access to alcoholic beverages and some much-needed vitamin D.

Lusail Stadium witnessed Qatar defend the AFC Asian Cup

When it comes to the main event, the Qatari national football team delivered once again for the country.

Already defending champions following the previous hosting of the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2019, the Maroons succeeded again, beating Jordan 3-1 in a final held at Lusail Stadium.

Hosting the FIFA World Cup has heightened an already established interest in football in the country, with 84,000 spectators on hand to witness the triumph and create a raucous atmosphere.

Facilities in the stadium are second-to-none, immaculately clean and virtually smelling of paint, though it can take a little while to get to and from the area by car.

More generally, sports are a major part of the offering in Qatar – with the country recognised as the World’s Leading Sports Tourism Destination by voters at the World Travel Awards.

Qatar Airways - considered the World’s Leading Airline - plays a major part in the success of the local tourism sector

Doha, then, is a city with a great deal of tourism potential.

Government authorities have the cash, ambition and aptitude to keep building, while Qatar Airways is poised to contribute to the success of the city.

A comprehensive stopover scheme allows transiting visitors to spend the night in a variety of accommodations, with prices starting at just a few dollars.

With more than 45 million travellers passing through Hamad International Airport each year, if a small fraction decide to stay for a day or two, the scheme could have significant impact on arrival numbers.

Saad Bin Ali Al Kharji, chairman of Qatar Tourism said: “The ‘Stopover in Qatar’ offering is an embodiment of continuity of the cooperation between Qatar Tourism and Qatar Airways providing travellers the opportunity to expand their destination experience and explore this remarkable country.

“Recognising the richness and diversity of Qatar, we believe that the package will be highly valuable for tourists with limited time.”

In an increasingly competitive tourism region, Doha has a strong offering, focused on the luxury sector and with an enduring Islamic influence – there is much to enjoy and seemingly a lot more to come.

More Information

Chairman of Qatar Tourism, Saad bin Ali Al Kharji, spoke to Breaking Travel News at World Travel Market in London

Qatar Tourism has a mission is to establish Qatar as a place where cultural authenticity meets modernity, and where people of the world come together to experience unique offerings in culture, sports, business and family entertainment.

Through a network of international offices in priority markets, and cutting-edge digital platforms, Qatar Tourism is expanding the presence of the destination globally and enhancing the tourism sector.

Find out more on the official website.

Chris O’Toole